Has a teacher ever told you to use more variety in your writing? You probably wracked your brain for a way to do this. Should you add more synonyms? Maybe you need more sentence structure variation? In fact, one great solution is to use more action verbs! Action verbs can make your writing more interesting and flow better. Let’s look at how to incorporate them into your writing.
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Defining the Term
Before undertaking the task of incorporating action verbs into your writing, it’s important to understand what “action verbs” are in the first place: an action verb is a verb that specifically expresses action (such as jump, run, grab, blink), as opposed to other types of verbs, like linking or helping verbs. According to Merriam-Webster, a linking verb is “a word or expression (such as a form of be, become, feel, or seem) that links a subject with its predicate.” A helping verb is “a verb (as am, may, or will) that is used with another verb to express person, number, mood, or tense.”
Therefore action verbs are verbs that help create a visual of a subject performing an action in your reader’s mind. Action verb examples include jump, search, nurture, and so on.
Make a Word Bank
Before sitting down to write your first draft, it can be helpful to write up a word bank of different action verbs. This word bank can be a tool to draw on as you write so that you incorporate more action verbs into your writing from the get-go. Your word bank could contain both common and lesser-known verbs to give you a variety. Use a thesaurus if you get stuck.
A word bank of action verbs could be set up in two columns like this:
Double check that the verbs on your list are indeed action verbs so that you don’t accidentally use linking or helping verbs when you don’t want to.
Look at Tone
When selecting action verbs to use, consider the type of composition you’re writing. This will dictate both your tone in the piece and how you select action verbs. For example, if you are writing a formal research paper, you might employ less commonly used vocabulary words like gravitate or deliberate to help create a formal or academic tone. A word bank of verbs suitable to your tone (more sophisticated ones for a formal/academic tone, more common ones for an informal tone) might be helpful.
Tip: If you have a vocabulary textbook left over from recent years in school, you might look there to identify action verbs at the level of vocabulary your tone dictates.
Insert Verbs During Revision
Before sitting down to revise your use of action verbs in the first draft, take a moment to plan out the revision as a whole. When revising, be certain to consider your organization of logic or events, word choice (like action verbs!), and proofreading.
To insert verbs during revision, focus on the wording step of revision (such as how you phrased each sentence and paragraph). Wording contributes to tone and how the reader perceives what you’re saying. If you have written a persuasive essay, for instance, you want to consider use of action verbs in relation to the argument, such as using verbs unique to each type of rhetorical strategy.
For logos aspects of your essay (appealing to logic), look for action verbs that accompany hard facts like investigate or inspect. For aspects of an essay that appeal to emotions (pathos), make sure appropriate action verbs are attached, such as undergo or believe. The same concept applies to setting up your credibility with the reader (ethos), where you want to use action verbs that display your level of education and intelligence.
Ultimately, during this revision of wording, you want to look for places where you could have used an action verb but didn’t, or could have used a stronger one. No matter what type of writing you are doing, from an essay to a creative piece, you want to display your grasp of language in a way that is unique to your style of writing.
Tip: Reading out loud is helpful for all aspects of revision, such as locating awkward passages that can be ironed out with stronger, more direct wording. This is a great way to find areas where more action verbs might be placed.
Use a Thesaurus
Don’t forget that you can use a thesaurus during revision! One strategy for working action verbs into your writing is to read over your work and replace verbs that were repeated a lot, or are helping or linking verbs (like seem or become).
Example: If you tend to use the linking verb “to be” repeatedly (verbs like is, was, were, are, etc.), you might want to do a word search and replace some instances with action verbs.
Look at this sentence:
The birds were happy to fly to the next telephone line.
Try replacing “were” like this:
The birds swooped happily over to the next telephone line.
Whether you’re looking to have more variety on first drafts or searching for places to slip more creative action verbs into a revision, knowing what an action verb is and how to use one is important. Happy writing and revising!